Opening Day for the New York Mets is less than one week away. With Jacob deGrom & Noah Syndergaard leading the rotation and top prospect Peter Alonso’s debut right around the corner, there are reasons for optimism with this team. ESNY is here with our official preview and predictions for 2019.
We’re tantalizingly close. The New York Mets open their 2019 campaign on Thursday, March 28 at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
Twenty-eighteen, the team’s first season under manager Mickey Callaway, was, to say the least, a roller coaster. After a franchise-best 11-1 start, the team played 66-84 baseball the rest of the way and was eliminated from the playoff chase in mid-September.
This is a franchise that made back-to-back trips to the postseason in 2015-16, but has now lost at least 85 games in each of the last two years. The front office has the challenge of attempting a semi-rebuild on the fly. We are attempting to develop our prospects and acquire more young talent to compete in the new-look ultra-competitive National League East, while also appeasing our current stars that are in the prime of their careers.
Speaking of that front office, it underwent quite the rebuild this winter. Former agent Brodie Van Wagenen was named the club’s new general manager in late-October. Having represented some of the biggest names in the sports—deGrom, Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, Tim Tebow (notice the heavy Mets theme here)—this is quite the radical career transition for Van Wagenen. I give the Mets credit for trying something new. Van Wagenen replaces Sandy Alderson after nine years in the role. Alderson has battled cancer over the last few years and had to take a medical leave of absence last July. He ultimately decided not to return to the Mets and took a senior advisor position with the Oakland Athletics.
Let’s take a look at some key additions and losses for this year’s team.
- 2B Robinson Cano: Acquired along with closer Edwin Diaz in a December deal with the Mariners, the Mets are hoping that Cano can put a forgettable 2018 season behind him. Cano was suspended for 80 games in May after violating Major League Baseball’s Performance-Enhancing Drug Policy. He returned from his suspension in August and finished with a .303/.374/.471 season.
- INF Jed Lowrie: Before even making his Mets debut, the 11-year veteran will visit the injured list. Lowrie signed a 2-year/$20M deal in January, but is dealing with a left knee injury and will miss an undetermined amount of time. When he gets back to action, Lowrie has the potential to be a very nice addition for the Mets. Capable of playing all over the infield, he is also a switch-hitter with steady doubles power from both sides.
- C Wilson Ramos: Coming off his second career All-Star appearance, the 31-year-old catcher was rewarded with a 2-year/$19M deal in free agency. Ramos was flipped from the Rays to the Phillies at the trade deadline last July, but compiled the second-best season of his career nonetheless. In 111 total games, Ramos hit .306 with 15 home runs and 70 runs batted in; excellent offensive production for the catcher position. He will likely hit in the No. 4 spot in the Mets’ lineup and will be counted on to drive home a substantial number of runs.
- OF Keon Broxton: New York added Broxton in a January trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. With 3B/1B Todd Frazier & INF Jed Lowrie beginning the season on the injured list, Jeff McNeil will shift over to third base. This creates a starting spot in the outfield that could be Broxton’s for the taking. While he hit just .179 (14-78), Broxton was still worth 1.6 WAR in 2018, thanks in large part to his defensive prowess.
- UTIL J.D. Davis: Like Broxton, Davis was also added in a January trade, this time with the Houston Astros. The former top prospect saw playing time at 3B, 1B & LF during his time with the ‘Stros and is slashing .296/.345/.426 through 20 Grapefruit League games.
- RHP Edwin Diaz: Acquired in the same deal as Cano, Diaz has a reasonable claim to the title of “Best Closer in Baseball.” After a breakout 2017 season in which he saved 34 games, Diaz took it to a whole new level with a whopping 57 saves last year. This tied Diaz with Bobby Thigpen‘s 1990 season for the second-most saves in a season in MLB history. Having just turned 25-years-old on March 22 and not eligible for free agency until 2023, Diaz can be this team’s lockdown closer for the foreseeable future.
- RHP Jeurys Familia: A very familiar name for Mets fans. Familia spent his first six-and-a-half seasons in Queens before being traded to Oakland last July. Van Wagenen elected to bring him back with a 3-year/$30M deal in December. Expected to serve as the club’s primary setup man, Familia is coming off his best season since his 2016 All-Star campaign. In 70 total games, he accumulated 1.4 WAR and recorded the second-highest K/BB ratio of his career at 2.96.
- LHP Justin Wilson: The 31-year-old agreed to a 2-year/$10M deal in late-January. Wilson saved 14 games over the 2016-17 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, but has settled into a middle relief/setup role over the last season-and-a-half.
- LHP Luis Avilan: Like fellow lefty Justin Wilson, Avilan signed with the club in January. The 29-year-old native of Venezuela has played for the Braves, Dodgers, White Sox and Phillies in his seven-year career. Primarily a lefty-on-lefty guy, it will be interesting to see how Callaway deploys Avilan in 2019.
I like a lot of the moves that the team made this winter. None of the players that the club lost would classify as “big” losses in my mind, but we’ll run through some of the players that are no longer around.
- 3B David Wright: Now a special advisor for the Mets, the longtime captain made his retirement official after appearing in just 39 games over the last three seasons. It would have been amazing to see what Wright would have been able to accomplish had injuries not derailed his career. Despite missing all or the majority of his last four seasons, he was still a seven-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award Winner and two-time Silver Slugger.
- C Kevin Plawecki: The Hinsdale, Illinois native spent the last four seasons with the Mets before being traded to the Indians in January. In 79 games in 2018, Plawecki hit .210 and was worth 1.3 WAR.
- INF Wilmer Flores: The fan favorite signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency. Flores broke in with the Mets in 2013 and played in 100-plus games in each of the last four seasons. Personally, I think Lowrie is an upgrade over Flores.
- OF/1B Jay Bruce/RHP Anthony Swarzak: Part of the return in the Cano/Diaz trade, Bruce actually posted a negative (-0.4) WAR last year. Limited to just 94 games, he hit nine home runs and drove in 37 runs. Swarzak appeared in 29 games out of the bullpen and finished with a 6.15 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched.
- LHP Jerry Blevins: The Mets’ LOOGY over the last four years, Blevins returned to the A’s in free agency. He played with Oakland from 2007-13, his role looks likely to be filled by Luis Avilan.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
- Brandon Nimmo, CF
- Jeff McNeil, 3B
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Wilson Ramos, C
- Michael Conforto, RF
- Dominic Smith, 1B
- Amed Rosario, SS
- Keon Broxton, LF
Rest assured, this is not the Mets’ lineup at full strength. Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie will all be returning at some point and will give this lineup even more firepower.
Projected Starting Rotation
- Jacob deGrom, RHP
- Noah Syndergaard, RHP
- Zack Wheeler, RHP
- Steven Matz, LHP
- Jason Vargas, LHP
The top-three pitchers in this rotation can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the National League. The last two spots are where it becomes much more tricky. Matz started 30 games in 2018, but went just 5-11. Vargas won seven games but was worth -0.3 WAR and had a 5.77 ERA. Familiar names Corey Oswalt & Chris Flexen will provide depth at Triple-A Syracuse to open the season.
- Closer: Edwin Diaz, RHP
- Setup: Jeurys Familia, RHP; Robert Gsellman, RHP
- Middle Relief: Justin Wilson, LHP; Seth Lugo, RHP
- LOOGY: Luis Avilan
- Long Relief: Kyle Dowdy, RHP
Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I think this is a bullpen that will turn into an asset for Mickey Callaway in 2019. Diaz is as lights out as it gets and Familia should be a strong setup man. Wilson & Avilan have historically both been very good against left-handed hitters. Kyle Dowdy is a Rule 5 pick who is a bit of a wild card.
Prospects to Know
- 1B Peter Alonso: The 24-year-old may not give the Mets a choice other than to keep him on the Opening Day roster. Alonso slashed .368/.394/.647 in 21 Grapefruit League games.
- SS Andres Gimenez: A left-handed hitting Venezuelan, Gimenez has the ability to hit .300 and steal 30 bases a season. We should see him in September 2019.
- SS Ronny Mauricio: Still shy of his 18th birthday, we likely won’t see Mauricio in the big leagues until 2022. He is very raw, but is a switch-hitter. There are questions about whether he will stay at SS long-term.
- SS/3B Shervyen Newton: A product of the Netherlands, Newton is in the same boat as Mauricio in that his major league debut is likely three years away. Just 19 years old, Newton is still growing into his 6-foot-4 frame and is already flashing 25-30 home run power.
- 3B Mark Vientos: Selected with the No. 59 pick in the 2017 draft, Vientos has as much upside as any prospect in the Mets’ system. There are concerns about the number of strikeouts, but Vientos reminds me of a Wilmer Flores-type player. We will see if he can stick at 3B, he may end up moving to LF or 1B down the line.
Projected Record & National League East Standings
Here are my projections for how the Mets and their division rivals will fare in 2019:
- Nationals: 88-74
- Mets: 86-76
- Braves: 85-77
- Phillies: 81-81
- Marlins: 67-95
The National League East could be the most competitive division in baseball in 2019. While Bryce Harper leaving for the Phillies captured most of the headlines, the Nationals are still a force. Led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, I like the Nationals to narrowly capture the division crown.
For the Mets, my 86-win projection represents a nine-win improvement over last year. Typically, teams in the Wild Card game have about 90 wins, so the club should be right in the hunt.
Here’s to another season of New York Mets baseball.
ESNY Staff Picks
Justin Birnbaum, Mets Senior Writer
Final Record: 85-77
Place in NL East: 3rd
Playoff Results: N/A
Team MVP: deGrom is team MVP
MLB Awards: deGrom Cy Young
Philadelphia had a really good shot at winning this division. Then, they signed Bryce Harper. Harper’s decision to remain in the NL East will reverberate strongly and prevent the Mets from ascending to the top. Even with their off-season additions, the Mets built a team destined for a place just above mediocrity. With Philly on top, Washington would be a strong pick for a second place finish and potential Wild Card, leaving the Mets in a battle for third with the Braves. Now that he has his money, Jacob deGrom should excel again this year and we will all be in true awe of his most recent two-season stretch. All is not lost though. Behind a core of Conforto, deGrom, Nimmo and Syndergaard, this club has pieces to assemble a potential winner in the next few seasons.
Robby Sabo, Founder
Final Record: 90-72
Place in NL East: 2nd
Playoff Results: Wild Card Game win, loss in NLDS
Team MVP: Michael Conforto
MLB Awards: N/A
The New York Mets have a great chance to surprise in 2019. Gone is the “walk and a blast” Sandy Alderson motto and in is what wins today: a situational approach. That, mixed with a sneaky underrated lineup to go along with a better bullpen and excellent starting pitching should shock the world.
Pete Alonso is the difference-maker. His power righty bat in the clean-up hole will make or break this team in 2019.